(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Stylistically, Summer and Smoke is Williams’s realistic compromise between the poetic expressionism of The Glass Menagerie and the violent theatricality of A Streetcar Named Desire. Although Summer and Smoke is more conventionally realistic than the other two, it is also his most allegorical statement on the conflict between the soul and the body, between innocence and experience, and between eternity and life—themes taking various forms in all of Williams’s plays. The play is also one of Williams’s three treatments of a character named Alma, the other being an earlier short story, “The Yellow Bird,” and a later play, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1964).

Its allegorical realism consists of Williams’s apparently simple and clear portraits of three women, the most important of whom is Alma (her name means “soul”), the daughter of a minister and his increasingly senile wife. Like Laura Wingfield, Alma has a deformity. Hers is of the soul rather than of the body: a chastity of mind that in the early years of her life repressed her sexuality. Slowly it has developed into a revulsion against the physicality of sex and then, later in the play, becomes an unconventional (for her) appetite for the physical aspects of sex.

Rosa Gonzales, on the other hand, the daughter of the owner of Moon Lake Casino (a recurrent symbol of the pleasures of the body in Williams’s plays), is the embodiment of physical (sexual) attraction, the allegorical opposite of Alma’s chastity-dominated soul. A third character, Nellie Ewell, a former piano pupil of Alma, represents a balance between the extremities represented by Alma and Rosa. Eventually, she marries Dr. John Buchanan, the young doctor who has been, at various times, attracted to Alma and Rosa. As a character, Nellie is even less developed than is Stella in A...

(The entire section is 771 words.)